I was going to write about how pleased I was the Oilers put together 60 minutes worth of hockey, or how their puck pursuit was the difference in the game today, or even how impressed I am with Brad Winchester. But there's only one thing worth talking about in Oil Country.
As Mike Brophy said during the intermission, there aren't many guys in the NHL who compete as hard as Ryan Smyth game in and game out. He's not just a leader, he is still the Oiler's best player. He showed it again tonight, scoring two goals, drawing several penalties, and doing something all great leaders do: sacrifice.
Its just unfortunate that no Oiler made John Liles sacrifice as well. I think Laraque would have sacrificed Lile's body, body, then face. Sure Horcoff went after him, and I'm sure he'll be marked next game, but this is the kind of hit that was taken well past the level of competing. I've talked a lot about how fighting and head-shots aren't nearly as big of a problem as is checking from behind. Obviously, kneeing is another big problem in the NHL.
Now you could argue that Liles was just desperate and didn't mean to knee Smyth. Its possible, maybe he'll release a post game statement indicating such. But you could also argue it was 'premeditated.' Think back to the second period, Marty Reasoner sends in a stealthy dump, Smyth picks it up and beats Liles for the game winning goal. Does anyone think Liles didn't get totally embarrassed on that play? Perhaps he was looking for a little revenge, a little payback for Smyth's one-man clinic tonight.
Will the NHL factor that into Liles' punishment? I highly doubt it. Most casual NHL fans are not sophisticated enough to understand how dirty and devastating a knee is. The NHL tends to punish not for intent or damage, but rather how brutal the crime LOOKS and how much general media attention it receives. I think Liles will get 1-5 games, and as usual, the punishment will not fit the crime. Who knows how long Smyth will be out? We know he's had knee problems before, but we know he's a quick healer. One thing is for sure, the Oilers are going to miss him big time.
Come back soon Jesus on Skates...
edit: Here's the video of the play in question: